Washington Carver was an American agricultural scientist and inventor. He actively promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion. He was the most prominent black scientist in the early 20th century.
Carver was born in 1864 in slavery in Diamond, Missouri, during the years of the Civil War. Like many slave children, the exact year and date of their birth are unknown.
Carver was one of the many children of Mary and Giles, a slave couple belonging to Moses Carver. A week after his birth, Carver was abducted with his sister and mother from Carver Farm by assailants from the neighboring state of Arkansas.
The three were then sold to Kentucky. Of these, only Infant Carver was located by an agent of Moses Carver and returned to Missouri.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 ended slavery in Missouri.
Moses and his wife, Susan, decided to keep Carver and his brother James at home after this time, raising and educating the two children. Susan Carver taught her to read and write because no local school accepted black students at the time.
The search for knowledge would continue to be a driving force for the rest of Carver’s life. When he was young, he left Carver House to go to a school for black children 16 km away.
It was at this point that the boy, who had always identified himself as “George, the sculptor,” became known for the first time as “George, the sculptor.” Carver attended several schools before graduating from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.
Accepted at Highland College in Highland, Kansas, Carver was refused admission after university administrators learned of his breed. Instead of attending classes, he filed a complaint, where he conducted biological experiments and compiled a geological collection.
While being interested in science, Carver was also involved in the arts. In 1890 he began studying art and music at Simpson College in Iowa, developing his painting and drawing skills through sketches of botanical samples.
His prominent ability to draw the natural world led a teacher to suggest Carver enrolling in the botany program at the Iowa State Agricultural College.
Carver moved to Ames and began botanical studies the following year as the first black student in the state of Iowa. Carver stood out in his studies. At the end of his Bachelor of Science, Professors Carver Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel persuaded him to stay for a Masters.
His graduate studies included intensive work in plant pathology at the Iowa Experimental Station, during which time Carver established his reputation as a brilliant botanist and began to pursue the rest of his career.
Carver’s work as head of the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural department included innovative research in plant biology, much of which focused on developing new uses for crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and nuts.
Carver’s inventions include hundreds of products, including more than 300 peanuts (milk, plastics, paints, dyes, cosmetics, medicinal oils, soap, ink, wood stains), 118 sweet potatoes (molasses, sealant, flour, vinegar and synthetic rubber) and even a type of gasoline.
At the time, cotton production was declining in the south, and the overproduction of a single crop had left many fields exhausted and barren. Carver suggested planting peanuts and soybeans, which could restore nitrogen to the soil, as well as sweet potatoes.
Although these crops developed well in southern climates, demand was low. Carver’s inventions and investigations solved this problem and helped struggling sharecroppers in the south, including many former slaves who now face the necessary culture.
Carver also spoke of the possibilities of racial harmony in the United States. From 1923 to 1933, Carver attended Southern White universities for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.
However, he remained largely outside the political sphere and refused to criticize existing social norms openly. In doing so, activists seeking a more radical change in rental policies were encouraged by the anathema of Carver and Booker T. Washington. However, Carver’s research and research has helped improve the quality of life for many farming families, making Carver an icon for African-Americans and white Americans.
Carver died after falling down the stairs at home at the age of 78 on January 5, 1943. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee.
Carver’s epitaph says: “I could have added a fortune to glory, but regardless of either, he found happiness and honor by helping the world.”